Meet the top 100: Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing was born Doris May Tayler in Kermanshah, Iran, in 1919. She attended a convent school in what is now Harare, Zimbabwe, but left at the age of 13 to follow her own educational path. She left home two years later to work as a nursemaid, and she started reading about politics and sociology. She also started writing.

Lessing met her first husband in1937 and they had two children, John and Jean, before their divorce in 1943. Shortly after that she joined the Left Book Club, a publishing group that had a strong left-wing influence in the UK, where she met her second husband, Gottfried Lessing. They had a son, Peter, and divorced in 1949.

After the divorce, she moved to London with Peter, leaving her first two children in South Africa with their father. She became politically outspoken, opposing apartheid and campaigning against nuclear arms; this led to 20 years of secret service surveillance on her.

Lessing’s politics came out in her writing: her early work was influenced by her communist leanings, with her first novel, The Grass Is Singing, following the theme. Over the years she explored psychological themes, innovative structures and feminism in her work.

In all, Lessing published more than 50 novels, many under the pseudonym Jane Somers. When they awarded her the Nobel Prize in 2007, at the age of 88, the Swedish Academy called her “that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny.”

Lessing died at home in London in 2013, at the age of 94. In addition to a raft of published work, she left behind a literary archive of some 45 archival boxes at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, at the University of Texas at Austin, a smaller collection at the University of Tulsa and a personal archive, including 40 years’ worth of diaries, at the University of East Anglia.

Why is she on the list?

Every author on the list has earned their place through scores assigned to various prizes, sales, reader ratings and expert collections.

  • Nobel Prize in Literature
  • Man Booker Prize nomination
  • Man Booker International Prize nomination
  • Top 100 Works in World Literature
  • 100 Greatest novels of all time
  • The 100 best novels written in English

Read about Lessing

Doris Lessing, by Carole Klein and Anna Fields

Doris Lessing: A Biography, by Carole Klein


Image: Garoa, Flickr

Meet the top 100: Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was the archetypal macho man. He went to war, enjoyed hunting and fishing, drank a lot and had a penchant for women. He was loved and hated in the press, but his written legacy has earned him a place on the top 100 fiction authors Bucket List.

Born in 1899 in a suburb of Chicago, Ernest Miller Hemingway spent most of his life moving around, from Italy during the First World War to Toronto, to Paris, where he spent time with writers like Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to Florida’s Key West and Cuba.

He was an ambulance driver in the war, but returned home in 1918 after being hit by mortar while handing out cigarettes and chocolate to the men on the front line. It would be the first of several serious injuries to affect his health and quality of life.

Hemingway’s travels and wartime experiences had a huge influence on his writing. He published seven novels, six short story collections and two non-fiction books. Much of his writing was set in Europe, including A Farewell to Arms (1929), which was based on his time fighting in Italy.

His love of fishing and hunting are also clear in his work. In 1952, Hemingway published The Old Man and the Sea – a novel that would earn him the Nobel Prize two years later. But the success of publication was tarnished when he was involved in two accidents while traveling in Africa.

He had chartered a plane as a present for his fourth wife Mary, to fly over Murchison Falls in the Belgian Congo (now DRC). The plane hit a pole mid-flight and crashed; Hemingway suffered a head wound and Mary broke two ribs. Their luck ran out the next day when a second flight, due to take them to a medical centre, exploded during take-off. Hemingway was concussed and badly burnt, and the severity of the crash led to some premature obituaries, which he would read during his recovery.

The trauma of the plane crashes and the pain caused by his injuries set Hemingway on a path of heavier drinking and mental illness. In 1959, he returned to the US, buying a house in Idaho. He was eventually admitted to the Mayo Clinic, suspected of having attacks of paranoia: he was convinced he was being followed and that his nurse was an FBI informant. He was given repeated electroconvulsive therapy and medication that are thought to have worsened his depression.

In early 1961, Hemingway was diagnosed with hemochromatosis; his father also had this genetic condition, which leads to mental and physical deterioration. His father, his brother Leicester and sister Ursula committed suicide, and in the summer of 1961, Hemingway followed, shooting himself with his favourite shotgun.

Why is he on the list?

Every author on the list has earned their place through scores assigned to various prizes, sales, reader ratings and expert collections.

  • Nobel Prize in Literature
  • Pullitzer Prize nomination
  • National Book Award nomination
  • Goodreads Best Books Ever
  • The Best 100 Authors
  • Ranker
  • Book Depository
  • Top 100 Works in World Literature
  • For The Love of Books
  • The Ideal Library
  • The Greatest Books of All Time
  • 100 Life-Changing Books
  • 100 books to read in a lifetime
  • The 100 best novels written in English
  • Book awards: The 100 Favorite Novels of Librarians


Read about Hemingway

Hemingway by Kenneth S. Lynn

Papa Hemingway by A.E. Hotchner

Hemingway in Love: His Own Story by A.E. Hotchner


Image: Wikimedia